The top 25 fantasy starting pitchers were ranked Wednesday, with Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez leading the pack. While those two are prime examples of the type of pitcher you want anchoring your fantasy staff, who you choose to round out your rotation with is equally important.
Around 60 starting pitchers are drafted in most 10-team leagues, meaning owners are often forced to choose between selecting low-risk players with mild upside and high-risk starters with the ability to outperform expectations. Regardless of which strategy you prefer, examining a deep pool of potential fantasy starters will increase your odds of success.
All rankings are based on a standard 5×5 category, 10-team rotisserie league scoring system.
26. Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers
Lilly is far from the sexiest starter left and lacks the upside of many pitchers to follow, but how many other pitchers can you name who've posted a sub-4.10 ERA and 160-plus strikeouts in three of the past four seasons? Lilly shouldn't be anchoring any fantasy rotations, but he's an underrated option from the 12th round on and could win 15 games on a solid Dodgers team.
27. Wandy Rodriguez, Houston Astros
Rodriguez has quietly been an above-average fantasy starter for three straight seasons now but doesn't get the credit he deserves because of the team he plays on and low win totals. The Astros figure to be one of the worst teams in baseball in 2011, so wins will continue to be hard to come by, but Rodriguez's sub-3.50 ERA and 180 strikeouts will make him a solid contributor to fantasy rotations.
28. Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics
Anderson would have been a solid candidate to break into the top 20 if his health were guaranteed, but his injury potential suggests he's a dubious candidate at best to throw 200 innings. He has the talent to win 15-plus games with a sub-3.00 ERA and 175 strikeouts over a full season, but, to avoid disappointment, draft him with the expectation of receiving 25 starts.
29. Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco Giants
Sanchez may seem like he's primed to break into fantasy stardom, but he benefited greatly from luck last season –- advanced statistics show that his ERA should have been nearly an entire run higher -– and his WHIP will kill you if he can't reduce his walk rates. He's a fine bet for 15 wins and 200-plus strikeouts, but he comes with the risk of posting a 4.00 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, too.
30. Phil Hughes, New York Yankees
Hughes looked to be on his way to a breakout campaign during the first half of the 2010 season but was clearly fatigued from the All-Star game on, which is unsurprising given his dramatic increase in work load from a season before. Hughes won't turn 25 until June and should be stronger this season, meaning a 15-plus win, 170 strikeout and sub-4.00 ERA season is within his reach
31. Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers
Lewis is one of the most underrated fantasy pitchers headed into 2011, and nothing about his solid 2010 campaign suggests he should be in for any type of serious decline. Lewis is still in his prime at age 31, and it's reasonable to expect another sub-3.75 ERA, 180-plus strikeout, 12-plus win season from him. He's not an exciting pick, but I'd feel comfortable drafting Lewis as my third or fourth starter.
32. John Danks, Chicago White Sox
Danks hasn't developed into the ace many thought he would become when he was a prospect, but that shouldn't undermine the fact that he's grown to become a consistently above average pitcher. Danks won't wow you in any category but will help you in four of them, and he could break the 15-win threshold for the first time, thanks to an improved White Sox team.
33. Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies
Chacin was nothing short of phenomenal during his time in the Rockies' rotation in 2010, and he offers them a legitimate No. 2 starter to pair with Ubaldo Jimenez. Chacin has never thrown 200 innings in any season and is subsequently somewhat of a risky play, but there are few better options to roll the dice on. His upside could yield 200 strikeouts, 15 wins and a 3.50 ERA.
34. Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
Cubs fans won't want to hear it, but there's a reason the Rays traded Garza away: he's fairly overrated. Garza was lucky to finish with an ERA below 4.00 last season, and he struck out nearly 40 fewer batters than in 2009. Garza's ability to post 175 strikeouts and 14-plus wins means he's a solid mid-rotation fantasy starter, but don't assume he's going to become an elite option just because of the switch in leagues.
35. Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs
Dempster proved to be one of the lone fantasy bright spots on the 2010 Cubs, winning 15 games with a 3.85 ERA and 208 strikeouts in what was arguably the best overall year of his career. Dempster seems like he's been around forever but is still only 33, and while his WHIP and ERA aren't exactly fantasy-friendly, they're also not bad enough to negate his value in wins and strikeouts.
36. Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves
Hudson's 2010 season was his best since 2007, as the veteran sinker-baller posted 17 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA for the third time in his career. Hudson's BABIP suggests that his ERA was largely a function of luck and fantasy owners should expect it to be closer to 3.75 in 2011, but he's fully capable of winning 15-plus games again, and his WHIP will help owners, too. He's not an ace, but he's a valuable fantasy asset.
37. Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox
Beckett is in many ways the ultimate risk-reward pick at starting pitcher this fantasy season, as he has the ability to be a top-10 performer at the position but also has the capacity to tank miserably. Beckett was a huge fantasy asset as recently as 2009 but likely sunk many squads in 2010. If you can stomach the risk, a 17-plus win, 200-strikeout season could be yours, but don't gamble on Beckett unless he falls to the later rounds.
38. Ricky Noalsco, Florida Marlins
Nolasco has been both over- and undervalued at different points during his career, but owners should now accept him for what he is: a solid third or fourth fantasy starter. Nolasco is coming off a knee injury that limited him to 26 starts last season, so you might be able to grab him for a bargain. Expect an ERA around 4.00 with 180-plus strikeouts and 14 wins, but don't bank on him turning into a stud.
39. Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays
This is a slightly optimistic ranking for Romero, but the Blue Jays' new ace is being somewhat undervalued in drafts this preseason. Romero's ERA will likely always hover around 4.00 in the AL East, but the Jays are good enough to allow him to win 14-plus games again, and he should strike out 180 batters as he continues to improve. If you can stomach the high WHIP, Romero's a solid fantasy option.
40. Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee Brewers
As a player who had the best year of his career in 2010 and was then traded to a weaker division, Marcum has seen his fantasy value take a dramatic rise over the past several months. Marcum's injury history is troubling and he's only had one truly fantasy-relevant season, but the possibility of a sub-3.50 ERA, 160 strikeouts and 14-plus wins with a low WHIP makes Marcum a worthy gamble as a fourth fantasy starter.
41. Brett Myers, Houston Astros
There are plenty of reasons to like and dislike Myers headed into 2011, and whether or not you draft him should depend primarily on how far he falls in your draft. If Myers is treated as a top-25 option, let someone else roll the dice on the oft-injured righty, but if he can be nabbed from the 16th round on, the potential of another 180-strikeout, sub-3.50 season is too much to ignore.
42. Hiroki Kuroda, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kuroda's age will scare off many fantasy owners, but the 36-year-old righty has been a very steady producer over the past three seasons. Kuroda's 2010 campaign was his best yet, as he improved his strikeout, ground ball and home run rates from 2009. Expect a 3.50 ERA, 150 strikeouts and 12-14 wins, and be confident in Kuroda's ability to fill out your rotation.
43. Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays
Morrow would rank much higher on this list if healthy, but the oft-injured flamethrower will start the year on the disabled list with a sore right forearm. All indications are that he should be good to go by late April, but Morrow has thrown over 70 innings in a season just once in his career, and his 225-strikeout upside is somewhat mitigated by his lack of durability. He's a great upside pick, but don't expect more than 25 starts.
44. Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati Reds
Volquez is another risk-reward pick with the potential to perform like a top-20 starter but with serious question marks concerning his ability to stay on the mound. Volquez showed no ill effects from Tommy John surgery last season, but threw just 62.2 innings and saw his walk rate jump to over five batters per nine innings. He has No. 2 starter potential, but don't overdraft him based on his past success.
45. Dan Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Many owners and fantasy experts think Hudson is in for breakout 2011 campaign, but I'm not one of them. Hudson was never projected as much more than a fourth starter while a prospect, and while his move from the AL Central to the NL West will certainly help his fantasy value, he's not an ace-in-the-making. Hudson can provide value with a sub-4.25 ERA and 170 strikeouts, but don't make him a key fantasy cog.
46. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
The fourth member of the Giants to make the top-50 list, Bumgarner performed extraordinarily well in his first real stint as a major leaguer in 2010, exhibiting impressive control and poise. Bumgarner will need to improve his strikeout rate and avoid fatigue after pitching nearly 200 innings last season, but don't be surprised if he's a borderline top-25 option headed into 2012.
47. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
If Hellickson were being judged on his skill alone, he'd rank much higher, but I'm hesitant to completely trust any rookie pitcher in the AL East. Hellickson is renowned for his superior control and pitching savvy, but don't expect better than a 3.75 ERA, 13 wins or 150 strikeouts in 2011. Those numbers are very good, but they won't make Hellickson an elite option.
48. Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics
If you believe in BABIP as a legitimate indicator of future success, you shouldn't believe Cahill will repeat his 2010 numbers. It's really that simple. The young sinker-baller is clearly a pitcher on the rise and should still be good for 14-plus wins, but he is unlikely to strike out more than 140 batters and should see his ERA rise closer to 4.00. Feel free to draft him, but not as a front-of-the-rotation arm.
49. Brian Matusz, Baltimore Orioles
Matusz is often overlooked because of the team he plays for and the division he plays in, but the young lefty is good enough to be fantasy-relevant anywhere. Matusz will of course struggle to surpass 12 wins on a poor Orioles team, and he may endure some rough stretches in his sophomore campaign, but don't be surprised if he finishes the year with 170 strikeouts and a sub-4.00 ERA.
50. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays
Shields is being undervalued this season thanks to an ugly 5.18 ERA in 2010, but that number is largely a function of bad luck and Shields' tendency to give up home runs. Shields isn't an elite fantasy starter but he could win 15 games on a talented Rays team, and he should post an ERA of around 4.00 with 160-plus strikeouts to boot.
Three more prospects to watch for in 2011:
1. Jarrod Parker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Parker would likely already be in the majors if not for the Tommy John surgery he needed in 2009, but the flame-throwing right-hander has seen no loss of velocity or movement post-surgery. Parker is the D-Backs' ace of the future, and while he's likely to spend most of 2011 in the minors, a midseason call-up is far from out of the question.
2. Kyle Drabek, Toronto Blue Jays
Drabek would receive more attention if he were walking into a more rookie-friendly environment, but the AL East rarely treats its newest pitchers kindly. Drabek is still good enough to notch 170 strikeouts and win 12-plus games, but his ERA and WHIP may be a hit too high for most fantasy owners to swallow in 2011.
3. Corey Luebke, San Diego Padres
Luebke lacks the strikeout potential of any other prospect on this list but deserves attention as a pitcher with solid control who'll be playing in Petco Park. Luebke's hold on a rotation spot will be tenuous once Mat Latos returns from the DL, but he should be able to nudge his way onto a staff that includes the likes of Dustin Moseley and Tim Stauffer.